(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) on Wednesday attacked as "baseless" and "imaginary" a Peace Now report which said that 73,302 apartment units were in various stages of approval in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem.
He spoke to the Knesset plenum about the report at the request of MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), who was concerned by the large numbers revealed by Peace Now.
The matter was aired in the plenum on the same day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had said to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that continued settlement activity was harming the peace process and preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
If fully executed, the plans in the Peace Now report would double the population of Judea and Samaria and increase the number of Jewish residents in east Jerusalem.
Peace Now based its numbers on a government Web site which allows the user to check the building plans filed for any community in Judea and Samaria, as well as their current status.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said anyone could check the numbers on that Web site.
Still, Boim said the group had exaggerated the numbers. "If they got to 73,000, they must have put in additional numbers, otherwise I do not understand how they would calculate such a number," he told the Knesset.
He admitted that plans for a large number of potential housing units could in fact be found on that site, but said it would be a stretch to imagine that this meant there was any intention to execute them.
Whenever a building plan is filed for an area, even a small one, the site's building potential was also included, he said.
But that didn't mean there was any intention to actualize those plans, he added.
If anything, he said, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made it more difficult to push forward construction projects in the settlements by insisting that his office had to sign off on them in addition to the Defense Ministry, which much approve all settlement construction.
He also took issue with the contention in the Peace Now report that 15,156 of the 73,302 housing units had already been approved. According to Peace Now, 8,950 had already been built.
Boim said that only 11,532 had been approved for construction and out of those, only 447 tenders had been issued this year for projects - in the settlements of Elkana, Ariel and Betar Illit.
MK Haim Oron (Meretz) took issue with Boim's numbers, which he contended didn't take into account the full number of projects which had been publicized in 2008, including a deal to build 50 houses in the settlement of Adam for the families who now live in the unauthorized Migron outpost.
Boim responded that he had been referring only to those tenders published by his office this year and had not included projects not requiring such tenders. The homes in Adam, for example, are still in the planning stages.
Paz-Pines later told the media that Boim was "averting his eyes and allowing his clerks to approve construction in Judea and Samaria."
He warned that the "Construction and Housing Minister was getting ready for settlement construction under [Prime Minister-designate Binyamin] Netanyahu's government."